Before I get into it, I think it’s pretty crazy to be writing a post with this title. I never thought it would be realistic until some of the events in the recent weeks transpired.
Noel’s tenure in Philadelphia had its fair share of ups and downs. During Noel’s time here we saw him develop into the perfect modern NBA big man. He was a swiss army knife on defense. We saw him go from preforming highlight blocks against NBA bigs to switching onto quick guards and holding his own.
One of his most famous moments was blocking the shot of future NBA MVP James Harden. It was one of the glimmers of hope within the down years of the Process.
On the flip side, Noel’s tenure with the Sixers went on a step downhill decline rather quickly. After putting together a very solid season, we saw the Sixers load up on big men. The Sixers took the best player available in Joel Embiid in the 2014 draft, while following it up with two other acquisitions at the same position in the 2015 draft in Jahlil Okafor and Richaun Holmes.
All of a sudden the Sixers were faced with an absolute log jam at the center position. Keep in mind that I’m referring to a time that was before Joel Embiid even played a NBA game. Noel had to compete with the newly drafted Okafor and Holmes at certain moments.
This lead to the Sixers starting Noel alongside Okafor for an outdated twin tower approach. The lineups were clunky to say the least as both of the big man were complete non shooters with no great point guard in sight (sorry Ish Smith). This obviously led to frustration throughout as all three of the before mentioned centers were capable of starting on a NBA squad.
To make things more complicated, Joel Embiid finally did get healthy and completely dominated in limited minutes. He was the best talent out of the four big men which lead the Sixers to start him, while benching all of the other bigs on the roster.
This was the year were we saw visible frustration from Noel, even openly saying to the media that the situation was far from ideal.
Nerlens Noel: "I think I'm too good to be playing 8 minutes. That's crazy. That's crazy. That's crazy. We need to figure this s--- out."— Jessica Camerato (@JessicaCamerato) December 17, 2016
And frankly speaking, Noel was completely correct. No successful 6th overall pick would be comfortable being in the role that he was placed in. This frustration boiled over which lead Bryan Colangelo to pull the trigger on a deal that landed Noel a starting job alongside Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.
Things finally looked optimistic for Noel as the Mavericks were in dire need of a defensive center since Tyson Chandler’s departure. His rookie deal was about to expire and he looked to cash out with a well regarded team. However, things didn’t go exactly like that.
Rumors came out that the Mavericks offered Noel a whopping $70 million dollar deal over the span of 4 years that would pay him over $17 million annually. Reports varied on if this actually happened but Noel ended up taking his qualifying offer worth just over $4 million; a number quite far away from what Noel likely envisioned.
Things didn’t get better from here, either. Noel and Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle fueded a lot throughout the season; which lead to Noel being glued to the bench. He only appeared in 30 games for that season while averaging a career low of just 15 minutes-per-game. Less than ideal for a contract year.
The peak moments of weirdness was when Noel went into the media dining room to grab a hot dog mid game!
Nerlens Noel visited the media dining room at halftime to get a hot dog. pic.twitter.com/mKYrB63e1J— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) December 2, 2017
Nerlens Noel never became the next Tyson Chandler for the Dallas Mavericks. Noel later departed in free agency for a back up role behind Steven Adams on the Oklahoma City Thunder for a minimum contract. He would go on to put together great minutes on two variations of the Thunder; averaging a career high 68% shooting from the field in his most recent season.
Now, Nerlens Noel finds himself at yet another crossroad. The Thunder have traded away the majority of the win-now players as they embark on their own rebuild. He no longer fits their time line and is presented with yet another free agency.
This free agency is much different than others, however, as most teams are extremely limited in cap space. The league’s salary cap has decreased due to the COVID-19 outbreak, that could potentially have good players settling for deals below their value.
As Nerlens Noel approaches yet another unrestricted free agency I feel like both he and the franchise that drafted him should strike a deal. After reading all of this you’re probably thinking it’s crazy but in hindsight it makes a lot of sense. Let me explain:
The Sixers finally traded their fan favorite in Al Horford to Nerlens’ former team, the Thunder. While Daryl Morey absolutely did a great job in acquiring better fitting pieces, the Sixers are left without a clear option at the center spot behind Joel Embiid.
Kyle O’Quinn will likely depart in free agency as he had limited playing time in the previous season. Norvel Pelle would be the next best option but it’s unclear if he will be on the roster as he’s a non-guaranteed contract and has had limited playing time at the next level. That leaves newly drafted Paul Reed as the next man up who is, at the very least, a year or two away from seriously contributing. There’s a clear need and role for a backup center that Noel could fit right in.
Noel did have problems with the Sixers front office in the past, in regards to his unclear role and playing time. While those are still valid to an extent, the Sixers new front office and coaching staff has been completely revamped since Noel was last here.
There’s a lot to gain for Nerlens Noel if he accepted a role with the Sixers. First things first, he likely wants to get a good payday. While the Sixers are limited in what they can offer, they can offer him the full taxpayer’s mid-level exception: worth just over $5 million a year. While it’s a far cry from that $70 million potentially offered a few years back, it’s solid money on a good team where he can rebuild his value even further.
Noel would be a great fit alongside Ben Simmons. While both are non-shooters, Noel is a complete lob threat in transition. He’s one of the quickest centers in the NBA and could put together some impressive highlights.
He doesn’t just cater to Ben Simmons, either. Nerlens Noel is a close friend of Joel Embiid, which would be a very welcomed sight to see. The Sixers have moved on from a lot of players Embiid is close with in the past such as JJ Redick, TJ McConnell, Robert Covington, and Jimmy Butler. The Sixers welcoming back an old friend of Embiid would be a nice sight to see.
If you still aren’t sold on a Nerlens Noel reunion, this interesting bit came out a few weeks ago. Nerlens Noel posted some highlights of some of his best Sixer moments with the caption of “Can’t wait to be back”.
Thanks to Ricky listener Ian who points out that Nerlens Noel may have leaked that he's coming back this season on his Facebook page pic.twitter.com/xwJSgg3ltO— Rights To Ricky Sanchez Podcast (@RTRSPodcast) November 14, 2020
Is Noel referring to simply playing the game of basketball or returning to Philly? We can speculate all we want, but we will likely have an answer within the next few days. I hope you all have your old Nerlens Noel jerseys laying around somewhere, they might come in handy in the not-so-far future.